Teachers union says policy to keep kids with lice in school isn’t working

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The head of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the public school teachers union, says the state’s policy on students with ukus, or head lice, is not working.

The Department of Education changed the guidelines last school year to allow students with ukus to stay in school rather than making them go home right away.

The decision was based on guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Association of School Nurses.

The idea is to cut back on kids missing school time.

HSTA president Corey Rosenlee says the change in policy might have been a good idea in theory, but inside the classroom, it brings an environment that is not conducive to learning.

“If you have young kids and one child has ukus, they’re going to play with each other. They’re going to try to hug their teacher. They’re going to hug each other, and that’s going to spread it even further,” Rosenlee said.

The DOE and the Department of Health point out that ukus do not transmit disease and should not be a reason for children to miss school or be shunned.

The school health practice should include inspection of the student by a school health aide, notification of the parents if a child has ukus, and the child can return to class.

We’ve learned that in some schools, teachers are being told by the principal to separate the child who has ukus in the classroom.

Rosenlee says the change in policy has put teachers in a very difficult position.

“Our teachers, I would say there’s a variety of approaches that they do,” he said. “They do not want any difficulty of a stigma on a child or how that child learns, but we’re not helping our teachers.”

Child psychologist Marvin Acklin says separating the child who’s already feeling ashamed of having ukus makes the problem worse.

“They could be subject to ridicule that could go well beyond the individual incident,” Acklin said. “I would say the child is likely to experience shame as a result of the stigmatization, and I don’t believe I’m being overly sensitive about that. I believe that likely to be an actual reality.”

We wanted to know if schools are being told its okay to separate a student with ukus.

A spokeswoman told us no one was available to talk on camera, but sent a statement that said teachers are encouraged to use these incidents as teachable moments to reduce the misinformation and the stigma.

When we asked again what guidelines are in place, the spokeswoman refused to answer, and there’s nothing mentioned on the DOE’s website.

“I would ask them if you found out that a friend was coming over to the house and their child has ukus, would you be okay with them in your house?” Rosenlee said, “and what they’re saying is they probably would say no to that, but it’s okay for the classroom.”

Rosenlee adds that in some cases, students have ukus for months. He says DOE needs a policy on how to help those families.

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